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    Wednesday, August 31, 2005

    "Painted Out of the Picture"


    Natasha Walter valiantly tries to defend women artists in the Guardian. I'm glad I wasn't the only one who noticed the absence of any work by women on the Britain's favorite paintings list.

    Having a conversation with a male friend about literature the other night, I found myself surprised by his inclusion of three female writers on his list of all-time favorites (Marguerite Duras, Edith Wharton, and, of course, Virginia Woolf, for the curious). It seems rare for a man to cite women as his favorite artists, writers, filmmakers, etc. I wonder if this is becoming more common as certain women are introduced as canonical in their fields. But it still stands out to me.

    Walter points out, quite rightly, that many women do their work in multimedia, video, and other forms which are less culturally-honored than painting, so women get the shaft.

    What's interesting though is how common women are what is painted, written about- often the women in these works seem fascinating, complex, and intelligent. Take this by Ford Madox Brown, The Last of England, which feautres most memorably the woman in the foreground, at once introspective and in contemplation of the sadness in front of her, as opposed to the man on her right whose eyes are rather glazed (I choose this particular piece as it is one of those in Radio 4's Top 10 British Paintings). Or Anna Karenina. Yet, women manipulating the images of and language around women has always seemed somehow aesthetically distasteful to many men, critics, artists, and laypeople. Even during the heyday of women's domestic novels, they were "popular" fiction, rather than literary works; sound familiar?



    Painting at the top: Jopling's Dear Lady Disdain-exhibited in Fine Arts Palace, 1893 Exposition. See, there were British women who could paint.

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